PHPWomen Calendar 2010

I'm halfway delighted and halfway cringing to announce that the phpwomen calendar is now on sale. This was a project organised by my friend and colleague Johanna Cherry, who saw an opportunity at php|tek 2009 to photograph the majority of the core PHPWomen members all in one place and turn it into a fundraising calendar.

If you're expecting something "Calendar Girls" then you'll be disappointed. We are all clothed in the pictures!

I won't share photos from the calendar itself, if you want to see those you can buy your own, but perhaps to give you a hint I'll share an outtake of myself:

I must confess that I was rather agitated when the photos were taken - as a woman in a male-dominated industry, the risk of being seen as just my physical appearance is ever-present, and I normally try hard at unremarkable, unrevealing clothes with very little makeup and a pair of jeans. Hanging out in the lobby at the hotel during a technical conference in that dress and those shoes was significantly more terrifying than delivering three sessions during my first trip to the US as a speaker (which, considering the problems I have with speaking nerves, is saying something). Even after I saw the photos I was kind of unhappy with the whole experience, although I loved the outtake linked above!

Fast forward 6 months and I had dinner with Derick Rethans, who took the photos in the calendar and arranged the printing, and he showed me the prototype he'd had printed. As I sat and turned the pages, I started to understand why this is so important. The women in these photos are some of the leading lights in the community - respected developers, some of them core developers, key community people, and speakers. Yet I saw them as the women they are ... and suddenly remembered that actually, it's acceptable to be both smart AND beautiful.

So - get your calendar and remember all year that beauties can also be geeks! 10% of every purchase goes to PHPWomen, and we will use those funds to support our women and grow more leading lights like these.

Are Games Just For Gamers?

I'm a keen gamer, or I thought I was - but I'm also female and very busy, which apparently is outside the expected criteria. My preferences are typically for platform style games (Zelda) although I'll play pretty much anything that's easy on the eye and doesn't require superhuman powers of hand-eye co-ordination. I lose interest in the games where you walk around shooting people but I can compete with (and sometimes win against) my colleagues at Mario Kart.

This year, there have been a few games come out that I really liked the look of, some of which I even own. However I only actually played one of them for any length of time. This isn't because the games weren't good, but mostly because they can't be played in small enough chunks of time. While I am perfectly well aware that the target market for games is probably single men with long stretches of spare time - that's not me. I love all things nintendo and have both a Wii and a DS, and will happily play on either when I can find the time. BUT "time" for me is 20 minutes, maximum, and not every day (sometimes not even every week).

If your game doesn't allow saving at will, or as a minimum, quit regularly, then its likely that I'll get frustrated and stop playing. Last time a Zelda title came out (my absolute all-time favourite), I had just moved to a new town, had a flat I could clean in an hour, and a job where I clocked in and clocked out. This year, there's a new title, and I don't know when I'll even buy it, or how much I'll actually play of it if I did. The recent Mario DS title required you to *complete* 5 levels before saving, never mind play them. I loved the game, but my lifestyle didn't allow me to get far. The Metroid titles for Wii had exactly the same issues - I like the game but if I can't pick it up and put it down, it just doesn't get a look in. On completely the other end of the spectrum was the Professor Layton game, which was puzzle based and could be saved almost at any point!

So, it turns out I'm not a gamer any more, because the game design doesn't cater for those of us with real lives ... when will the manufacturers learn that actually normal people play games too?

Accessible UK Train Times

A very quick entry today to mention a site that I've been using a LOT lately and I know I will be relying on for large quantities of travelling right through November: Accessible UK Train Timetables. It has up-to-the-minute information, including platform numbers, and you can bookmark queries for the next train between two points along with some other very cool shortcuts.

A site like this, which presents information very cleanly and I can easily use off my phone, is an excellent example of a good use of published data and I'm very grateful to them for this resource which really helps me when I'm out and about!

Pigeon Print

Recently I was working (I work from home) and I heard a really loud impact noise, like a football being kicked really really hard against something. At the moment my desk is in the attic, I looked at the cat, but he was asleep in the same room as me and hadn't even looked up at the noise. I set off down the house, wondering if I needed to shout at next door's kids for kicking the ball against something ... and then I saw this

Pidgeon imprint

I'm pretty sure that wasn't there earlier - this is my landing window so you walk past it all the time. A pigeon (I'm guessing) must have flown right into the window. I got a fright - but I can't imagine how the bird felt!

Dedicated Talks Page

With increasing numbers of speaking engagements, I've decided that its time to add a dedicated page to this site just to list talks I've given and wil be giving, and link through to slides, blog posts, and perhaps some photos of me speaking (not sure about that last one). So if you're looking for material from a talk I've given - take a look at the talks page, you can find everything there.

I've added all the past talks of note (made much easier by my tendency to blog and tag all these experiences!), let me know if you have any questions or comments!

A Bit About Burnout

I've been thinking a lot lately about burnout, I've had a couple of encounters with it in the last year myself and also a few people close to me have found themselves struggling internally after working too hard. I don't really have any advice to give - the advice I offer to myself is to know my own limitations, know when I am close to them and need to tread carefully, and to stand up for myself against the sources of stress or overwork if the need arises.

However it happens, the question a burned-out person seems to ask is "how long will I feel this way?" and there is no quantifiable answer, and no guaranteed cure for that dragging fatigue. Most of the advice I've heard revolves around "get a hobby" - this time around I realised what I needed to hear was "give yourself permission to waste time". The first one I don't have a problem with, anyone who knows me knows I'm a live wire and always doing 6 things at once. The second one ... that's the killer.

Earlier in the year I did a lot of travel for a particular work project, at a time when my diary was already pretty full and I was preparing for a big conference. With one thing and another, by the time it was all over, I realised I needed to make some changes. Lots of elements of my life - friends, family, relationship and health - had all taken a beating while I was off dealing with all that I needed to do, and I realised there was a lot to do to get myself to where I wanted to be on all those other fronts. Last week I realised that although it took 10 weeks, now I feel like myself, finally picking up the strands of hobbies and having the energy to contribute to things that once interested me. Its not a big chunk of time to spend "healing" and I am glad now that I did step away, allow myself to vegetate and chill out with those close to me instead of being driven all the time to the next thing on the list.

Most of all - I hope other people come through the experience as unscathed as I have, and that I learned something for next time.

Trainer Lacing

I play a lot of sport, and wear almost exclusively Asics trainers (sneakers if you like the other kind of English) to do so. In fact I only wear one pair of trainers, to the gym, to classes and for netball - which might be a mistake. One pair of trainers used to make my toes go dead sometimes, usually when running. A woman I was playing netball with at the time re-laced my trainers and that stopped the problem. My new trainers are giving me the same problem, and luckily I was able to dig out those old ones and copy the lacing - so here it is for posterity (and for next time I have this problem and can't remember how to do it).

Trainer Re-lacing
Lace the bottom of the shoe as usual, then with 2 holes to go, thread down into the shoe.

Trainer Re-lacing
Come up through the top hole on the opposite side.

Trainer Re-lacing
Staying on the same side, go back inwards through the hole you just missed out.

Trainer Re-lacing
Finally, thread each end through the loop on the outside of the opposite side of the shoe (see why I included pictures? This is tricky to explain)

I'm not sure why this works for me, I have a high instep so perhaps it relieves pressure on a key point? Anyway, if this works for you, or if you have any tips - leave a comment!

Blurb Book of Peru Holiday Photos

In January, Kevin and I went to Peru for a few weeks - to visit our friend Cally, and we did some touring while we were there. Between the two of us, we took almost 3,000 photos. Which is way too many to make granny sit through when we got home. I tried showing people the photos I put on flickr, but they make little sense since Kevin has (at least) half the good ones in his flickr stream. So instead, got a blurb book of our holiday photos - to easily show people, and to keep.

Blurb Book

Apart from a few that came out darker than we expected, and the book taking WEEKS to arrive, its absolutely ace! Some of the photos look amazing in print - even more so than they do on the screen. We rarely have hard copies of any of our photos so this is quite a treat for us as well, and the book is really nice quality for us to have on our bookshelves.

Inside the Book DSCF4982

Doing it this way was much less labour intensive than getting them printed and then scrapbooking them up or something - OK potentially this was less fun but at least its actually done and not sat on my to-do list :) We did all the layout ourselves, combined both our flickr sets (after we'd both gone through and edited and captioned the lot anyway), and just pressed the button. A few weeks later, the finished book arrived - yay!

Peru: Lima

Here goes the final entry about my Peruvian travels. You might also like to read about the time spent in the rainforest, in and around Cusco, at Machu Picchu , en route to Puno on the Andean Explorer and around Puno itself.

We started and ended our trip in Lima, with a few days either side. We were visiting a friend in Peru and Cally has an apartment in Miraflores - a suburb of Lima. Actually her apartment is excellent, its vast and in a cool place with a balcony and a view of the park. Having this as a base was a real treat. I didn't take many apartment photos, but take it from me, its lovely.

Cally's Balcony

We were able to get a few days out combined with a few days lying around while we were in Lima (it was supposed to be a holiday, after all!). One of the days, we went for a walk down to the cliffs over the sea, where there was a nice path with a cool wall.

Lima Wall

We also went to the zoo one of the days, and spent another in the centre of the city itself, seeing the squares, cathedral, museums and so on.

Macaw

Lima Cathedral

Lima is a desert, and as such it is very dusty and hot - almost too hot to sleep at night (it was high summer when we were there). Also throughout our trip, we were smothered in factor 50 suncream - and I still managed to miss odd bits of my neck and stuff that burned very quickly. We have absolutely no tan to show for our time there, we'd just have burned much too quickly. Beyond the little bits of sunburn, a few insect bites, and an average amount of traveller's stomach upset, I survived this adventure (a big one for a city girl who doesn't travel!) and it was great to catch up with someone we haven't seen in a year. Thanks Cally :)

Peru: Lake Titicaca and Puno

This is an update on part of my trip to Peru. You might also like to read about the time spent in the rainforest, in and around Cusco, at Machu Picchu and en route to Puno on the Andean Explorer. Next we spent a couple of nights in Puno, including a day trip to Lake Titicaca.

Lake Titicaca is pretty amazing - you could believe you were by the sea if you forget that this "sea" is in fact almost 4,000 metres above sea level. In fact its the world's highest navigable lake, formed in the lowest-lying part of the Altiplano between the two sides of the Andes. We started our trip with a visit to Uros, a place which consists entirely of floating islands made of reeds. It sounds surreal and when you go there, it is.

Uros

The islands do float; you can feel the slight movement below your feet. And everything, everything is made of reeds. They peg the islands to the nearest reed bed, and then their houses, boats, and even meals are made of this one kind of reed. We got a short talk about the culture while we were there, and then a chance to ride one of the reed boats to another island. The culture there is pretty isolated, they have primary-age schools and everyone still wears traditional dress. They are well-adapted to tourism though, while on our reed boat ride, the 4 daughters of the family came to the tourists, sang a song in each of about 4 languages, and then sent the littlest daughter round with a hat to collect money :)

After Uros we went to another (normal type) island on Lake Titicaca, called Taquile. Taquile is recognised by UNESCO for its knitting traditions, and indeed the textiles we saw here were pretty amazing (although too traditional for me to want to bring anything back to use in my world). Again we saw the adaptation of the locals to tourism, one family had opened its garden as a restaurant and we went there for our lunch. While we were there they demonstrated their dancing and handicrafts, and allowed us to buy things of course! Here's some of the dancing:

Traditional Taquile Dancing

What I found most interesting about Taquile was their society structure. Now, I don't know much about societies in general, and I haven't travelled a lot - but I've never heard of a place where everything is run on what you are wearing on your head!! In the photo you can see the girls have "mantles" - just like a head covering - whereas the men wear hats. Both mantles and hats tell about a person's social status. A mantle with big, bright pom-poms on the corners belongs to a single woman, but with more demure tassles belongs to a married woman. The men start wearing a hat that is red at the head and white further up as soon as they can knit, and this denotes their can-knit-but-not-married status. Only the men knit on Taquile (this was common around the world), the women spin and weave. The married men wear red and blue striped (and intricately patterned) hats, knitted for them by their wives. And if you see someone in a really crazy flourescent hat with ear flaps ... then stop laughing and take him seriously, because he's the mayor :)

Another thing we learned was that on Taquile, divorce doesn't exist. But the couple can't marry until they have already lived together for 1-2 years, during which time they can change their minds and go back to their families. The hats made me laugh but it does seem like these people have a society that really works.

We climbed up to the main square (habitation on the top of hills seems in fashion in this part of the world) and then down the other side, there were a *lot* of steps!

Steps on Taquile

On the way back to Puno on the boat, a storm blew up on the lake. We had a pretty scary couple of hours with a small boat on very big waves trying to get back in to port - it was pretty clear even without understanding their words that the crew were very concerned as well. I'm usually very seasick but wasn't actually sick this time. The waves were big enough that finally I understood why people tell you to look at the horizon, I don't think I've been in big enough waves until now!

Storm on Lake Titicaca

The next day we had some free time in Puno. We walked down to the market at the port and since we were pretty early (about 9:30am), half the stalls weren't open and the stallholders weren't awake enough to pester us too much. We did quite a bit of shopping here, there were plenty of nice things to choose from. We also found a bus containing information about birds and fish of Lake Titicaca. Since we were with Cally (who teaches Biology), we couldn't give this a miss so we went on. The whole bus was full of stuffed birds and fish which were native to the area, with their Spanish, English and Latin names (how useful!). It was very cool and we discovered that we really had seen flamingoes in the distance the previous day (they looked convincing, but we thought they were African).

We followed this with a frankly horrible lunch (but lovely coffee and cakes somewhere else a bit later) and had a look around Puno itself with some great views of the lake.

Puno Cathedral

We went in the cathedral and I was, once again, taken by surprise by the use of iconography. I know, its a catholic country, I just somehow find it surprising. It was a beautiful building though and set in a nice square. We sat on the steps and fended off the street sellers and watched the world go by - it was a pretty cool afternoon! We then headed off to catch our flight back to Lima.